On the Stigma of Being Fired
Once again, some of the adults are acting like children.
Be glad you’re in school. You’re missing all this nonsense.
What’s being argued about this week? Whether Elizabeth Warren lied. About being fired. For being pregnant. Over 40 years ago.
Yep. Adults are literally yelling at other adults for pointing out that once upon a (not too long ago) time, women actually lost jobs for carrying on the human race.
Here’s just a bit of context to help you understand. Apparently, Elizabeth Warren has said in some stump speeches that she was “fired” from her job as a teacher because she was visibly pregnant.
Someone decided to verify the story. That someone apparently looked at old school board meeting minutes and noticed that Elizabeth Warren actually resigned. Controversy ensued.
Education historians were quick to produce some primary resources, like lawsuits and news articles. Resources that indicated it was somewhat common for teachers to lose their jobs when they were pregnant. At that time, it wasn’t yet illegal to discriminate based on pregnancy. So, it happened. (Yeah, I know, the fact that it’s now illegal pretty much verifies the reality of the practice. But, look, this is what some adults do while you’re at school.)
Then a bunch of people started sharing stories about the fact that it still happens. Despite the illegality.
So, the yelling adults switched strategies. Started yelling that being asked to leave, tendering a resignation, and being fired were VERY different things. Prompting people to yell even louder. Insisting that Elizabeth Warren lied when she called a forced resignation a firing. Claiming she’s now clearly unfit for the presidency.
But, here’s the thing that I have yet to see analyzed or discussed. So, let’s talk about it here.
What if the school board minutes actually used words that everyone agreed was a firing? Said something like, “The Board unanimously approved the termination of Ms. Warren’s employment with said Board." Would Elizabeth Warren, in 2019, be running a campaign for president as a sitting U.S. Senator?
I’m confident in answering that last question with a resounding “No.” Ok, maybe she’d be a candidate for president, falling into the category of a “long shot.” But, she would most definitely not be a U.S. Senator.
Why the confidence?
Because being fired carries such a stigma. It’s been true for decades. Well before Elizabeth Warren lost her job.
We whisper about these people. We say things like “something happened, you don’t lose your job for nothing.” We doubt in people who’ve been fired. Question their work ethic.
And, here’s the thing. The thing that by 2019 all adults should know is true. You can, in fact, get fired for nothing. Happens all the time. It’s built into our law. It’s called “at-will employment.” You can be fired at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. You can also quit. At any time, for any reason, or no reason at all.
But yet we talk and act as if there must be a reason. A legitimate reason. That the company must know best. We doubt the individual. Not the organization.
Because of this, a firing can negatively impact a person’s career for the rest of their life. Even keep people from being considered viable candidates for public office.
Each time the fired apply for a job, the application asks “have you ever been fired.” Answer honestly, and you get looked over. Answer dishonestly? Well, if that dishonesty gets discovered then you’re fired for lying on the application.
Because of this, people will avoid, at all costs, being fired. They’ll agree to resign. They’ll waive their legal rights. Even when they know they’re being fired for discriminatory reasons.
It’s just the way of work. It’s incredibly unfortunate. But, it’s true.
And, quite frankly, that’s something we should talk about. Let’s openly talk about the fact that we look down upon the fired. We give deference to employers. Without knowing any of the facts.
Let’s also be honest. If Elizabeth Warren had allowed the record to actually include the word “fired,” she likely would have had a different career path. If she had filed a lawsuit for being wrongfully fired, she definitely would have had a different career path. She would have been labeled a “risky hire” or a “troublemaker.” Nobody employs known troublemakers.
When we treat the fired as something other than us, we’re contributing to the conditions of our own employment. The fear of this stigma only serves to empower employers. Giving them the ability to pay less, offer fewer hours, benefits and opportunities.
It is very much true that this week’s adult drama served as an unexpected opportunity to remind the world that pregnancy discrimination is alive and well.
But, it also served as a reminder that we’ve got a ways to go in recognizing our own complicity. In our willingness to belittle the fired. Perpetuating the fear that one of us might be forced to join their ranks. To live a life of shame.
I’m hoping it’s your generation that starts a new trend. Helps make being fired a more respected event. That you’ll offer each other grace and understanding. Provide support. And, finally, once and for all end this stilly stigma.